At the beginning of the 20th century, when 12-string guitars first appeared in the United States, the instruments were considered novelty items, curiosities, freaks of guitar making that were beneath the dignity of serious companies like Martin and Gibson. But when Blind Willie McTell picked up a Stella 12-string in 1927, and then basically never put it down, the instrument was suddenly legitimized.

A folk singer named Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Lead Belly, had actually made the Stella 12-string his own earlier, in 1912, but Lead Belly had so many scrapes with the law and spent so much time in prison that he wouldn’t get a chance to popularize the ringing tones of the 12-string until the 1930s and ’40s. Even then, his biggest hit, “Good Night Irene,” came after his death in 1949.

Pete Seeger and the Weavers kept the 12-string sound alive until the 1960s, when groups like the Rooftop Singers (“Walk Right In”) made it the go-to instrument on the commercial folk scene. Gibson was ready with its B-45 in 1961 and its B-25 in 1962, while Martin got on board a bit later with its D12-20 in 1964 and D12-35 in 1965.

The loudest noise in 12-strings, though, was made by Rickenbacker, thanks to a custom, one-of-a-kind 12-string version of its 325 hollowbody electric guitar made in 1964 for John Lennon of the Beatles. George Harrison also became a Rickenbacker acolyte, playing his Rickenbacker 360 12-string on songs like "A Hard Day’s Night."

One musician who liked that sound a lot was Roger McGuinn of the Byrds. Reportedly, he bought a 360-12 after seeing the movie named after of the famous Beatles song. He went on to play a 12-string on one of the Byrds’ biggest hits, “Turn Turn Turn.”

By the late 1970s, newer companies like Taylor made acoustic 12-strings part of their lines. Once again, a key musician would cement the instrument's sound in our collective soundtrack. In this case it was Neil Young who, while vacationing in Florida, purchased a Taylor 12-string, an 855, at a local music shop. Young liked his 855 so much he ordered a second, and Taylor subsequently gained widespread recognition when Young’s 855 figured prominently in his concert film, "Rust Never Sleeps."

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Recent News: 12 String Guitars

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My Guitar: Harry Martin's hard-working Takamine 360, September 14th

"I use something that's called a stereo chorus when I plug it in electronically, and that gives it a little more body ... it actually sounds like a 12-string guitar, which is something I like." Martin recalls at a sound check, the technician, who didn...Read more

The long-awaited Replacements reunion thrills in the chill
Rick Kupchella's BringMeTheNews, September 14th

The Current blog said the show-closing double encore, called “a pure ice-cream-sundae-with-cherry-on-top finale for all those fans who've waited years to see them perform,” began with Paul Westerberg beginning with a solo on “Skyway” on a 12-string...Read more

Rock Legend Dave Mason Drives 'Traffic Jam' to Santa Clarita Thursday, September 13th

A highlight of the set is Mason's powerful, melodic arrangement of “All Along the Watchtower”; in 1968, he played 12-string guitar on Jimi Hendrix's hit recording of the Bob Dylan song. During the same sessions at Hendrix's Electric Lady Studio in New...Read more

Leroy Blankenship concert at Abundant Life ~ Sept. 21, 23 and 24
Red Bluff Daily News, September 13th

Blankenship is an accomplished musician, singer and song writer who plays a unique piano style, and a 12-string guitar. He has performed at the Grand Ole Opry and the Christian Music Convention. One of his songs, "He Only Needs it for the Weekend" won ...Read more

Folk artist Kray Van Kirk to play Crumb Brothers
The Herald Journal, September 12th

His warm and intimate concerts on six- and 12-string guitar have received critical praise and enthusiastic receptions from the house concert circuit to festivals and larger stages. His songs are rich tapestries of myth (“The Queen of Elfland” and...Read more

Don't call it a comeback
Boulder Weekly, September 11th

“The 12-string [guitar] has that fullness, that full-range fullness,” she says. “The dulcimer in contrast is austere, just four strings. It's very modal. It stands in a stark contrast to the 12-string guitar. … It's taught me a lot because of its...Read more

Five Questions for Herb Carter Jr.
The Saratogian, September 11th

Herb Carter Jr.: This local musician plays music that reflects his life, through playing a 12-string guitar. 1 Who are you? My name is Herb Carter Jr. and I am a musician from the Capital District. I perform as a solo act, as a duo with Justin Donohoe...Read more

Yass music club
Yass Tribune, September 9th

The group are now regarded as Australia's premier guitar quartet and has been wowing audiences throughout Australia as well as internationally playing not only the original four instruments but also a steel string Dobro and a 12-string guitar and using...Read more